The acquisition of Vance Walker for the Raiders was probably more important than it should have been. A rotational, role player on the Falcons, Walker is expected to be able to replace Desmond Bryant and step into the Raiders' starting lineup and to make an immediate impact on the defense. This Raiders defense was various forms of awful last year (though with glimmers of hope at times) and with the riddance of old players and an influx on new players, there's some renewed optimism for the defense to start playing to a higher level.
It all starts on the defensive line. With Lamar Houston moving from LDE to RDE, the Raiders will have 9 new starters and only 1 defender returning to play the same position as last year (Tyvon Branch). The looming question is if there is a true edge pass rusher on the team, but nearly as important is if the run defense will be able to hold up.
Walker and Bilukidi are expected to take over the duties of the interior line and to provide strength up the middle. The new linebacking corps looks nimble and quick and all seem to have very good coverage abilities, but they are definitely undersized and so there is additional pressure for the DL to consume opposing blockers. If VW Bug, Pat Sims, and Bilu the Kid are able to sustain their positions and to take on double teams, it will free up Roach, Sio, Kevin Burnett, Maiava, Burris, or whomever else to be able to aggressively run to the ball and fill gaps. If the DL cannot protect the LB-level, we will see OL releasing and easily engulfing the smaller linebackers, leading to potentially big runs.
After being out with an injury, Vance Walker finally returned to the team and the week 3 game against Chicago was his first game action with the Raiders. He's still knocking the rust off and getting into game-shape, so it's a little early to make too many definitive judgments on him. But from the game, there are some things of note that showed up both good and bad.
Vance Walker was often playing the 3-technique position, the outside shoulder of the strongside Guard. This is often called the "Under-Tackle" position. Warren-Sapp made this position famous and for Raiders fans, this is typically where Richard Seymour did most of his damage when he was healthy. The position typically has a lighter, quicker, more explosive DT and it is from this position that inside pressure/sacks typically come. That is because this position will often have 1-on-1 play with G-v-DT, while the NT takes the C and WS G and the DE taking on the OT.
(2) Run D, One-on-One
When Walker was one-on-one is run-defense, he performed very well. He didn't knife in or explode to the play to make tackles in the backfield or to blow up the blockers, but what he did was to take on the G in front of him, engage in a 2-gap style, and hold his ground. On Stretch plays, he is able to engage and scrape down the line without giving ground. He was matched up with Kyle Long or Matt Slauson and generally held up strong.
Single Team 1 :
Single Team 2 :
Single Team 3 :
(3) Run D, Double Teams
When Walker faced double-teams in the run game, he did not perform well at all. He was easily rooted out of his spot and simply man-handled, being shoved as much as 5 yards away from his engagement spot. While his position won't require him to routinely handle double teams, with multiple fronts and the shifting nature of offensive blocking schemes, he will certainly need to be able to hold up. In fact, if he is found to be deficient in this aspect, expect opposing offenses to target him in the run game with additional blockers.
In Atlanta, Walker's strength seemed to be that he was able to engage and hold up against blockers, both single and double teams. While he was not quick nor that fast, he was able to anchor very well and looked like he was going to be able to be a mainstay in the run defense.
In Oakland, he actually seems a little lighter and maybe a step quicker but then also he seems less Anchor-line. Did he lose weight in order to try to more effectively play the 3-tech? Has he been working on improving his quickness and pass-rushing skills to the detriment of his strong base? Or perhaps he's just working himself back into shape and is not quite at full strength yet.
So, keep an eye out on Vance Walker in the run game and pay particular attention to double teams and see how he holds up. I would hope that we see an improvement in this aspect going into Week 1 of the regular season. The run defense is really going to need it.
Double Team 1 :
Double Team 2 :
(4) Pass Rush
Vance Walker seems a little bit quicker than he was in Atlanta. From that 3-tech position, there were a few times when he got upfield against his blocker and was able to get a little bit of pressure on the QB. Typically in Atlanta, Walker was more of a "Crush the pocket"-type guy, who would engage his blocker squarely and then push him back to try to compress the pocket. Not really a "bull rush" because it didn't have the acceleration to it as typically a DE gets, but more like the Trash Compactor in Star Wars.
But now, Walker seems to have gained a step off the ball. He seems to be a little bit more nimble. He still didn't show much in terms of pass rushing moves, though I don't know that we should expect it. But if he can add a little bit of variety in the way he attacks his blocker, he may be able to help make some plays against passing teams.
Pass Rush 1 :
Pass Rush 2 :
Pass Rush 3 :
Vance Walker's first game back was a mixed-bag. He showed some things and it looks like he's going to be a very active part of the defense. It seems that he's still working himself back into shape and getting his strength back but at the same time, he's showing that he is quicker, more agile, mobile, and nimble than he showed in Atlanta.
He may offer some unexpected pass rush from the interior line and seems to be doing a solid job of engaging one-on-one blocks. His added athleticism allows him to handle blocks in space especially when engaging and disengaging against multiple single blocks. And there were times in the pass rush that he showed some very impressive upper body strength, using a club-type move to move linemen out of the way.
What remains a concern, though, is how well he will be able to anchor against the run game. With the importance of the DL to protect the 2nd level, the ability of Walker to be able to handle double teams may prove to be a key. At present, he was handled far too easily and moved too far to be effective. Still, it was his first game back against full-speed action and this is somewhat expected.
Overall, Vance Walker gives us some things to be excited about, bringing skills that were unexpected, but also disappointed slightly in some aspects of the game. He showed enough to make Raiders' fans optimistic that he can be a breakout player this year, but we'll have to see continued development and improvement going into Week 1.
For a look at the Vance Walker cutups against Chicago, see this : VW Cutups